Well, be satisfied that I have made good use of my time.
Behold! I am a canning queen.
First are the cranberries I cooked, spiced, and canned for the holidays last year...
THEN I found a recipe for making your own vanilla extract. Well, I visited www.beanilla.com and they were offering SIX different types of vanilla beans... So I got a small sampler of all of them. I used approximately 8 ounces of the best vodka I could find (5+ times distilled, in this case, 7), to 3 beans, sliced open and spread, to allow maximum flavor. I'll post a new photo showing the final result. The flavor is FANTASTIC, better than I've ever gotten with store-bought vanilla. It's very exciting, and I LOVE baking with it.
These photos are from when the mixture was approximately 2-3 weeks old.
In the spring, I HAD to make blood orange marmalade. Now, I can't find really good blood oranges around here, so I bought these from an organic grower in California. They are just breathtaking!
I had to use a mandoline to slice them very thinly. This thing loves blood, and has both mine and my husbands on multiple occasions. This is a big endeavor, however, and worth the risk.
I made some pomegranate jam today, but didn't grab photos- it smells like tomatoes to me, but that may just be because I had been elbows-deep in pomegranates for a day and a half. Hopefully after my palate returns to normal, I'll be able to enjoy it.
I'd be happy to give the recipes for any of the above, please let me know!
(I know- I'm posting a little early, but tomorrow is going to be CRAZY BUSY and I wanted to make sure it got up!)
I had a GREAT time doing this- and it was awesome to receive so many interesting cookies in return!
Here is the recipe of what I sent:
Strawberry Jam Sandwich Cookies (recipe courtesy of Williams Sonoma, "The Art of Preserving")
2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c unsalted butter at room temp.
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 c granulated sugar
1 whole egg plus
1 egg yolk
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
Filler Jam- approximately 2c needed.
For this recipe, I used my homemade Strawberry Lavender Jam, and Blood Orange Marmalade. Each recipient got 6 of each. I can provide the recipes for those, if you want them!
In a bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch and salt. In another bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the butter and zest until light. Add the granulated sugar and beat until completely incorporated. Add the whole egg and egg yolk and beat until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low, add flour mixture, and beat until just incorporated. Gather the dough into a ball and divide into thirds. Flatten each third into a disk. wrap separately in waxed paper and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease baking sheets.
Dust 1 dough disk with flour, and place between 2 large sheets of waxed paper. Roll out the dough 1/8" (3mm) thick. Using a 3 inch cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. Refrigerate for 10 mites. Gather the dough scraps into a ball, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate. Keep doing this until all your cookies are cut!
Bake until the edges of the cookies are golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool.
Spread the jam on the bottoms of half of the cookies, spreading it lightly at the edges. Top with the remaining cookies, bottoms down. Dust the tops with confectioner's sugar, if desired. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to a week.
Here are a few photos of the cooking in progress!
As of today, I've gotten two packages- one from Joy's Misadventures (some really lovely strawberry-rice crispy marshmallows, mint brownie biscotti with white chocolate and candy cane, and key lime cookies)
And the other from Adam & Katie at While We Were Weary- really fantastic cocoa crinkle cookies. These were gone in a day!
I'm looking forward to my last box, and I'd love to hear what you thought of mine! I hope they arrived quickly and safely, and that the jam didn't make them too soft (our test batch lasted well, but there's no accounting for how long it could've taken to ship to you!).
Thank you so much for letting me participate in this wonderful event, it was organized by a few of my favorite food blogs, Love & Olive Oil, and The Little Kitchen. Thank you for organizing this!!
Let me tell you, the last few days have been FULL of kitchen adventures! The most prominent being this morning: I signed up to take part in the 1st Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!
I hope a livejournal account counts as a food blog, or else I'll have to migrate my content elsewhere.
I'll be making three packages of cookies to send out to three food bloggers, and will be getting three packages in return- my mind is spinning with the options.
I'm thinking I may make some sandwich cookies with my homemade blood orange marmalade inside. That's definitely original, and I think they may like it. This is going to need some serious thought!
If you're a food blogger, and are interested in joining, go here and see what is involved:
You can sign up until the 15th, so get on it, doggone it!!
This wine we picked up from Blenheim vineyards in the Charlottesville area, owned by none other than Dave Matthews (yes, THE Dave Matthews).
First, we adored the winery. The tasting room wasn't really big, but beautifully constructed with natural wood with hand joining, overlooking one of the best sights we saw on our whole tour of ten Charlottesville vineyards. The service there was outstanding, our wine server was knowledgeable and subtle, allowing us to taste on our own, and immediately at hand with the next wine when our glasses were empty.
The seven oaks merlot impressed me enough to buy a bottle for later tasting, and here we are. The initial nose on this makes me think of lamb and marjoram, very earthy and herbal. My first taste I got butter, and nice round berries, but not so young tasting that it is almost sweet. Great balance of acid, with mineral on the finish, and a silky mouthfeel. This is not decanted, that's coming later. The flavor is like a good houseguest, lingering just long enough, but not overstaying it's welcome, and leaving a clean palate behind. The color is typical of merlot, nice dark red, a little bit of purple.
I'm enjoying this with a leftover steak, garlic mashed potatoes and Italian pasta salad (yes, that's a lot of carbs, but these are leftovers and I didn't eat lunch).
The longer the wine is in the glass, more mineral and oak emerge, with a little more pronounced tannins. On the nose I get a very slight floral note I'm having trouble placing. Maybe iris? And a teeeeny bit of maple syrup.
And now: Decanted.
Initial nose is the same, marjoram and lamb. First taste renders good tannins, leaving my mouth a little dry, but definitely wanting more. Berries are still there, but not as pronounced, this wine decanted tastes more like you'd expect a standard merlot to taste, still with the houseguest finish. The longer it is out, the more it mellows, more oak and again, more mineral. Overall, very lovely, reliable wine, would be good to cook with or to enjoy with something with toasted nuts. Buy this again!
Very nice, accessible wine. Strawberry and brown sugar/molasses on the nose. Moderate tannins, not overpowering, with a smooth finish. Drank it with a steak topped with Gorgonzola, rich mashed potatoes and asparagus. Would be fabulous with a dark chocolate.
The wine of the month for April was a 2008 merlot from White Hall vineyards. It looks and smells like a standard merlot, with a lot of berry on the nose. After pouring, I found a lot of acetone on the nose. The flavor doesn't have the depth I'd expect of a merlot, very nice but with a quick finish. It has nicely balanced tannins though, not overpowering like a lot of merlots. I think this would be best mixed with a stronger wine that needs to be balanced out, like Williamsburg Winery's Settler's Spiced Wine.
Not bad overall, but lacking the depth I needed with my steak.
To make a long story short, we bought slings for our glasses so we couldn't drop them- little lanyard-type things that hang your wine glass about your neck. Good purchase, as we plan on going to more of these things. Also bought a wine from Gadino Cellars, a lovely sweet white called Dolce Sofia. It is a 2008, a very nice dessert wine blended from Petit Manseng and Vidal Blanc. It's very sweet, pretty much a peachy-sugar, with a good citrus balance. That wine won the Bronze Medal in the 2009 American Wine Society International Wine Competition.
Also from Gadino Cellars I bought the 2008 Sunset, a picnic-style white made from Traminette and Chardonnay. It's just a very nice summer wine, light for sipping on a hot day. Very pleasant.
I also tried Gadino Cellars' 2005 Reserve Merlot, which was heavy on the tannins, very round, dark berries- it would be fantastic with a dark chocolate. I didn't buy one, as I was trying to pace myself.
The only other wine I ended up buying was the Noche, from Cooper Vineyards. It was incredibly popular this year, I heard many referring to it by name throughout the crowd, even further away from their booth. It is a sweet wine, won the gold medal for the VA governor's cup in 2009 and 2010, along with several other medals. It's a lovely chocolate-cherry flavor, one of the best chocolate-flavored non-chocolate anything I've ever tasted- not chalky, or fake at all. Matthew isn't much of a sweeeet wine person, but he really liked it.
We also tasted their Rhapsody, which was a gentle white with good citrus, but nothing shocking or bright about it. The Vida was pure sugar, a very good Virginia ice wine, one to rival the German Eiswein I like to buy. Also enjoyable was their Sangria, which was a fantastic blend of three of their wines, very pleasant and sweet, I was tempted to buy.
We visited the Peaks of Otter winery booth, it was... very interesting. It was incredibly creative and daring, claiming the title of Virginia's First Fruit Winery. Some of their flavors:
Sweet Heart (apple and pomegranate)
Chili Dawg (served with a squirt of Easy Cheeze, a chili pepper wine. When taken like a tequila shot, cheeze first, it tastes like a chili dog. Weird, daring, and spicy!)
Raz-ma-taz Raspberry (none of the raspberry wines I tasted this year were good at all- very medicinal tasting. Williamsburg Winery still has my heart in that area, they weren't tasting it this year, but it is absolutely fantastic)
Apple Truffle (tasted like a little bit of fruit with a Tootsie Roll- looks like they tried to imitate the ever-popular Noche, and had a semi-fail- didn't taste much like chocolate, but more like a tootsie roll, which is okay too)
Blueberry Muffin (nice, especially with their suggestion that it would make a complete breakfast!)
Kiss the Devil (Incredibly spicy, "better for basting than for tasting" they say- they give a sticker to anyone brave enough to try it. I didn't.).
Davis Valley Winery was nice, I liked their Virginia Breeze white, which was a sweet white. It was one I would consider buying. Their VA Breeze Red wasn't bad too, but I liked the white the best. Also from Davis Valley was Chambourcin, a semi-dry red. I think I'll look for that and the white later to purchase.
Oak Crest vineyard had a lovely Moonlight Sonata, from Symphony grapes, a lovely light white that I considered buying. Also, Summer Medley was VERY strawberry-y, you could almost taste the ripe berries just from smelling it. Very strong, but nice. Their Symphony sweet wine reminded me strongly of honeysuckle, was very light and nice. Also interesting from them was their Hot Jazz wine, from symphony grapes and less than 1% Jalepeno peppers- had a bit of spice, not really my thing. What is it with putting pepper in wine this year??
Kluge estate had their reliable Cru, but the server was so atrociously slow and unenthusiastic, it took ages for her to get through a flight of five simple wines. We waited forever, tried their Kluge SP Rose' and didn't like it a lot (was a brut champagne style), so we left. A bit of a waste, but I like their Cru, so I'll keep buying it.
Oh, by the way- if they're rude to me, I won't buy from them. At all. Which is why I skipped over Philip Carter booth this year- my visit there with my mother in the fall left a really sour note for me, making it difficult to enjoy their wines at all. If you want to make a sale, people, don't be assholes! I WILL hold it against you!
Last of the wineries I'm reviewing is the New Kent winery, where we tried the Chardonnay, which was bright, with a little butter. When we asked to just taste the White Norton, we were told by the elderly pourer that No, we would wait, he was going to go through the entire flight.
Well. I'm so sorry. Allow me to wait on you.
I didn't like anything else I tried from there. Age-ism apparently reigned with that man, who kept up a lively conversation with an older couple who also went through the flight with us- he rinsed their glasses and skipped over us on a few wines, ignoring us all the time. Well fuck you too, see if I ever buy any of your shit. I'll let the pensioners save their pennies for your overpriced swill. Matthew, who wasn't pissed off, didn't like their wine very much, so I'm going to assume that I wasn't terribly biased. He says their wines were plain, flat and one-dimensional, lacking complexity, depth and creativity. So there you go.
I joined the Virginia Wine of the Month club, who I had previously considered joining online. They were offering 15% off on the next three months, so I signed up there. They basically offer one or two wines per month (at a price of $15 or $28 plus shipping, respectively) delivered directly to your door, all Virginia wines. I selected a variety of red and/or white wines, so this will be fun to see what kind of lottery wine I will get every month. (http://www.vawineclub.com)
On a bright note, it seems like the chocolatiers this year were having their turn to shine- I tried a chocolate from River City Bean Company, and fell in love. At $3/28 grams of chocolate, I certainly had to be. They had wonderful chocolates infused with 100% Arabica beans, SOOO much better than mere chocolate-covered espresso beans. WOW. I bought four, two of their Cafe Mocha flavors, and two of their Chocolate Raspberry (which Matthew liked the best). They said they sell something like 12 more flavors online- it's safe to say I will be going there to spend even MORE money. Absolutely fantastic. (http://www.rivercitybean.com)
Another interesting chocolatier was Spice Rack Chocolates, who had a very lovely Lavender Grapefruit chocolate, which really opened my eyes. I wanted to buy some, but they only came in multipacks, and I was hesitant then, at $15+ per small box. I might check out their website later and see if I can be further convinced. (http://www.spicerackchocolates.com)
Overall, today was lovely, and exhausting. I'm off to bed now, so enjoy the links and the reviews! I'd love to hear your comments if you went to the expo today!
Saw on a friend's post that she was going to a wine tasting in Vegas for a wine grown in the volcanic ash on Mount Etna, in Sicily. Well, needing no further encouragement, I did some research and found one of what seems like several wineries there, called Terra Nera. Now I'm intrigued. I can get it online to get shipped to me, but should I?
Maybe I'll check Total Wine first. I really want to try this, apparently it's very good.
More to follow upon capture of said species of wine.
In similar news, I'm going to a Virginia Wine Expo in Richmond this weekend- very much looking forward to it. $35 gets me a wine tasting at more than 30-ish booths, all of Virginia Wineries- except one of my favorites, Chateau O'Brien. Boo, they should be there, their wine is much nicer than Naked Mountain's, and they will be there. Boo, I say!
It's an even amber color with a decent white head, and a lot of blueberry on the nose. This beer doesn't have the pronounced wheat flavor at the beginning like the Budweiser Golden Wheat, it's very subtle. A little bit of citrus, and a little bit of blueberry, it's subtle. I never would've noticed the flavor when I had first started with beers, but after finally getting used to the beer flavor, it's becoming easier to discern subtle aspects.